How to start a car valeting business

If you’re passionate about cars, have strong attention to detail and excellent customer service skills, a car valet business could be for you…

Car valeting, including car washing, is a great specialist cleaning business to consider (If you need some more ideas you can find them in our How to start a cleaning business: 8 simple steps). Since Karl Benz patented his gasoline-powered Motorwagen in 1886, car enthusiasts have been keen to keep their prized automobiles in factory condition.

From the very first hand car washing business, which opened in 1914 in Detroit, through to the launch of the first semi-automatic car wash in 1946 and present day full detailing services, car valeting businesses have been keeping automobiles pristine for over 100 years.

Car valeting, or detailing, covers a wide range of processes and treatments for cars including cleaning, waxing, polishing and vacuuming the exterior or interior of a car, designed to get it in showroom condition.

Chris Keir, owner of CK Detailing, a Northumberland-based detailing and valeting service for luxury cars, describes his profession as a “thorough interior and external cleaning of a car which often includes polishing and waxing, which enhances the look of your car”. Compared to a basic car wash, “when a car is valeted it will achieve a much more thorough finish”, he explains.

Keir, who started CK Detailing as a bespoke service, explains what drew him to the profession: “Since I can remember I have had a passion for cars and in particular car care and detailing. As soon as I turned 17 and got my first car I wanted to improve it’s appearance and basically make it stand out. I bought my first machine polisher and started learning, cleaning and detailing not only my own car but my friends and families building up quite the reputation in my local area. Over 11 years on, here I am with my own successful business doing what I love”.

Rob Tyler, managing director of iValet UK, a Cambridgeshire-based car valeting franchise, agrees: “Our business was born from a love of automotive and the freedom of being your own boss. […] A car valeting business can range from a basic drive through wash and go service to a full prestige detailing service”.

iValet UK is fully mobile an eco-friendly service covering Cambridge and the surrounding areas. It arranges a time and place to come out to, be it home or work and perform as full valet service.


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If you’re considering starting a car valeting business then be prepared before you commit as you’re likely to have to work long, physical hours on the weekend and on weekdays as you look to build your brand.

It’s clear that a passion for cars is a must, as well as a dedication to the craft, care and tenacity it takes to do a good job – consistent and high quality work is the way to get noticed.

If you don’t have any experience washing or servicing cars, you should consider working for a car valet business to get an insight into the industry and learn the necessary skills. Apprenticeships are available in this industry too.

The government’s National Careers Service estimates the starter salary for a car valet at around £14,000, rising to £16,500 for a more experienced professional.

It also recommends having a methodical approach, a strong attention to detail and excellent customer service skills.

So if you think launching a car valet service is the right small business opportunity for you it’s time to get started on the blueprint for your company going forward – the business plan…

Creating a car valeting business plan

Without a solid business plan, your car valet company will be running on empty. Taking time to craft a thorough and detailed plan is the best way to prepare yourself for the trials and tribulations of setting up a car wash business.

If you’re unfamiliar with how to write a business plan you can download our free business plan template here.

According to CK Detailing’s Keir “a car valeting business plan should include not only the services you offer and prices, but a year forecast of your earnings, expenses and profit”. He adds that “it’s important not to forget to include all the machinery you will need and, if you are mobile, the cost of running a van”.

Deciding whether to operate a mobile business or operate from a location will be one of the first, and most important decisions, before setting up your car valet business. Going mobile gives you the freedom to reach a wider catchment area offers customers greater convenience, although you will have to fork out for a van and petrol or even a fleet.

Operating from premises can make your business seem more credible and means you can offer a greater variety of services. However, it will also increase your start-up costs considerably as you will need to lease premises.

If you’re going to invest in a van, our vans for business section offers a wealth of advice and information on the best van to suit your business needs.

iValet UK’s Tyler says that a car valet business plan should include “start-up costs, target market, unique selling point, margins and which type of services you’re going to offer to your customers”.

It’s important to be as thorough as possible with your start-up costs to avoid any surprises and make sure you can properly budget – if anything it’s better to overestimate.

Tyler explains that if you decide to open a static drive through wash, you should “pick an area in the countryside with no other car wash for 10 miles or more. Country roads get very dirty in winter!”

You’ll also need to detail how you’re going to approach the market and secure customers. Keir says a simple way to stand out is to “offer better value for money. It’s important to find something unique that your local competitors aren’t doing. If there’s a service that they aren’t carrying out you might be able to fill that void”

“Do your research”, he asserts, “Are your potential clients within your area? What are your competition doing and what can you do that will make you stand out?”

The car valet market is a fairly crowded one – and while there are many premium, high-quality operations, there are also many offering shoddy, second-rate services, so it’s important to differentiate yourself from the competition.

The CK Detailing founder also urges you not to overlook insurance in your business plan: “All it takes is one small mistake on an expensive car such as a Bugatti Veyron and you could be paying that back for the rest of your life!”

So you’ve written a thorough and detailed business plan about how you’re going to set up your car wash business? Next, you need to consider the rules and regulations…

Car valeting rules and regulations

In any industry it’s imperative that you take time to learn the rules and regulations you’re going to have to abide by – failure to do so could result in fines, or even serious legal proceedings.

The main regulatory issues to contend with when starting a hand car washing or valeting business are focused around your water and chemical usage.

“Just like any business there are always rules and regulations to abide by”, says CK Detailing founder Keir, “however, specifically to valeting there is a law called trade effluent that states you are not allowed to let the water you use when valeting enter the watercourse”.

iValet UK’s Tyler agrees: “The industry is restricted by chemical usage and drainage requirements dependent on chemical content in specific areas”.

Legislation states that any discharge into a public sewer from a commercial or industrial premises is classified as trade effluent.

It is an offence to make this discharge without the consent of your local water company. This will require you to make an application giving details of the likely flow rate, any chemicals that could be present and details of the entry point to the public sewer.

The consent will contain certain conditions that must be adhered to, though these will vary from provider to provider and depend on the nature and volume of the waste. You will have to estimate how much trade effluent your car washing business is likely to produce and give details of what chemicals you’ll be using, sample data, drainage plans for your site and details of treatment on site.

Southern Water charges an administration fee of £231 to process a trade effluent application and requires at least two months notice, so those wishing to start a car valeting company soon should make this application of primary importance. You can find out more about this legislation and who you should apply to here.

Once you’re familiar with the regulations and have your car valet business plan completed, it’s time to find out how much your car valeting operation is going to cost you…

How much does it cost to start a car valeting business?

“Setting up a valeting business can cost as little or as much as you like”, asserts CK Detailing owner Keir.

“You will have to spend a few hundred on equipment and if you plan to be mobile on a van. You will also want insurance to carry out valeting. If you plan on having a unit to work from then your costs will be greatly increased”, Keir continues.

There’s a dizzying array of equipment used in car washing and valeting, ranging from brushes and squeegees to jet washers, polishers and a host of cleaning chemicals. At the very least you will need items to cover these basic functions.

However, when you’re starting out there’s no need to splash out on expensive equipment – you can buy everything you need second-hand from online stores which can be found by a quick browse on search engines.

As you grow your business – and perhaps take on staff to help you – you can upgrade and expand the range of equipment that you use. Search around online for the best value and ask others in the industry for their recommendations.

“There’s a huge range of products on the market for valeters and detailers” Keir explains and, when deciding which to use, you need to do your research: “Make sure you don’t just go for the biggest names, but you get the best for your budget. Some waxes and polishes will apply much easier and last much longer, which increases customer satisfaction”.

iValet UK’s Tyler says that “costs can be anything from a very basic, simple setup for £2,000 working from the back of a car, to £15,000 or more to become part of a larger company as a franchisee – the advantages of course to the franchise are becoming part of an already established business with a proven plan and record”.

At this point you may feel ready to start valeting cars and earning some money for your hard work – but how much money is your car valeting operation likely to make you? Read on…

How much can you earn running a car valeting business?

There are many variables that could impact the profitability of your car valeting business, ranging from local demand to the type of vehicles you choose to work with and your approach to marketing your business.

CK Detailing’s Keir says that the money you make depends largely “on your location” and “the level of care you carry out”, but suggests that a standard valet “can expect to earn about £25 to £35 for” for around one to two hours work.

If you plan to enter the luxury car detailing market – which CK Detailing operates in – and carry out premium car details “you can earn from a few hundred to the thousand pound mark per detail”.

Keir adds that the best way to earn more from car valeting is simply to do a good job: “The car care industry relies heavily on word of mouth. If you’re the best and people know about you, they will be willing to pay that bit more”.

You should always be motivated to carry out work to the best of your abilities and to the best industry standards. This also goes for any employees you take on: provide ongoing training to teach them best practice and ensure your car valeting business is associated with a quality service.

Keir also warns that you need to think carefully about your price point to ensure you attract customers: “When I initially set up my car care company I tried to undercut the competition, this backfired for me. People don’t mind paying more for a better service. Don’t overcharge though; people aren’t going to use your business until you have a good reputation”.

“Profits depend on the type of car valeting business”, explains iValet UK’s Tyler, “but an individual service provider can expect to profit around £8,000 trading first year from start-up or around £25,000 first year with a franchise”.

Managing growth can be challenging for a new start-up and ensuring you maintain a steady cash flow is vital to keep your car valet business running smoothly. Think about how to sensibly reinvest your profits to grow organically as you build your reputation locally and beyond.

Tyler continues: “The easiest mistake is to wait for the phone to ring, just because you have a website and some social media adverts. Be active – knock on neighbours doors and build a reputation”.

Even in an increasingly digital world, it’s important not forget the importance of old fashioned marketing methods such as drop-door marketing, when growing your company, especially when you work in a customer-facing role that relies largely on local trade.

“Being a recognisable face for your business gives it a human side and can give you the edge over local competition.

Now you have all the knowledge you need to establish a successful car valeting company, take note of these useful tips and contacts for the car valeting industry…

Tips and useful contacts

Remember:

  • To succeed in car valeting, a passion for cars is a must, as well as an eye for detail excellent customer service skills
  • The industry relies heavily on word of mouth – carry out consistently high quality work to build your reputation
  • A priority before you start your business: Contact your local water company about trade effluent and what this will mean for your business
  • Get the best tools for your budget, not the most expensive or the cheapest on offer – Don’t dismiss second hand equipment.
  • You’ll need to be active to get the word out about your business, use leafleting and drop door marketing to raise your profile in the local area.

Useful contacts